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The importance of good oral hygiene for hospitalized patients

Dental hygienist performing a procedure on a patient. (WJAR ){ }
Dental hygienist performing a procedure on a patient. (WJAR )
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The importance of brushing your teeth could be a lifesaver.

"Everyone thinks oh, 'it's just my teeth,' but you don't realize how much damage kind of disregarding your teeth and disregarding your oral care can do to the rest of your body," said Dr. Liz Benz, the director of the Samuels Sinclair Dental Center, which is part of Lifespan.

While the center specializes in treating adults with special needs and all children, the dentists also lend their expertise to hospitalized patients at two nearby Lifespan hospitals: Rhode Island and Hasbro Children's Hospitals.

"We field over 2,000 hospital consults a year, so we are constantly giving oral care recommendations to hospital and patients on a daily basis," said Benz.

A major concern? Hospital-acquired pneumonia.

"The pneumonia starts when you're not mechanically brushing your teeth and removing the plaque and biofilm that builds up on your teeth," said Benz.

That can lead to a buildup of bacteria that can make its way to the lungs and more.

"The bacteria loves to kind of infect things like heart valves," said Benz. "It can lead to clogged arteries and stroke due to the inflammation or infection that the oral bacteria can cause."

This applies to the general population.

"There have been some studies that are showing that you're two times more likely to have a heart attack or three times more likely to have a stroke it you have gum disease or periodontitis," said Benz, who said flossing is equally important. "I always equate it to kind of when you were making meatballs, as a child with your mom. You wash all the raw meat off in between your fingers when you're done making meatballs. If you're not flossing, you're not washing in between those fingers, and you have all that stuff stuck in between your fingers."

And that's why it's recommended you see your dentist for cleanings twice a year -- to make sure your gums are healthy, and plaque isn't building up.

Another reason for those visits? Oral cancer checks.

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